Tag Archives: Digital Home

Aspire Revo: The Ultimate STB?

aspire-revo

I came back from Taipei, and instead of an Asus Eee Box I dreamt about, I got a much cheaper box with much better specs: the Acer Aspire Revo. For around  180 Euro this is what I got:

  • Intel Atom 230 1.6GHz
  • 2GB DDR2 RAM
  • 250 GB HDD
  • nVidia ION Integrated with HDMI
  • Wifi b/g/draft-N
  • 6 USB ports, 1 eSATA, 1 SD-HC card reader, 1 Gigabit Ethernet port
  • Wireless Keyboard and Mouse
  • Linux RevoBoot

A pretty good price for what is inside this box. The Linux RevoBoot is not a serious distro. It is just provided to be easily replaced by whatever OS you plan to install.

I did install a Windows 7 RC on the HDD, and an XMBC Live on a SD-HC card. By pressing F12 at start up, you can choose which OS to boot from. Connected to a 50″ LCD screen through HDMI at 1080p, it looks pretty cool as a STB.

In order to enjoy HD video payed from this box, it is important to know that the Media Player software needs to be capable to use the hardware video acceleration, that is, able to off-load video decoding tasks to the nVidia ION GPU. The Intel Atom 230 processor by itself will not be able to decode HD smoothly without losing frames.

As of today that means that:

– On Windows, the media player must support DVXA (DirectX Video Acceleration):
Windows Media Player supports DVXA ONLY for Windows Media Video. A popular player like VLC, does NOT support DVXA. Boxee for Windows does not support DVXA either. I did installed Media Player Classic – Home Cinema, which supports video acceleration for h264, the codec normally used in Matroska popular HD video downloads.

– On Linux, the media player must support VDPAU (Video Decode and Presentation API for UNIX), which is the case for MPlayer ot MythTV, and specially by the XBMC Media Center and Boxee, the favorites media centers of the Linux crowd.

Unfortunately Flash does NOT support HW acceleration, and that means that most online video does NOT play totally smooth on the Revo.  Adobe and nVidia are said to be working on it.

All in all, a good box to attach to your LCD TV and control with the wireless keyboard and mouse from the sofa. Great performance as a Media Center for your media library, but with shortcomings to enjoy online video on your TV.

This is the main drawback of boxes like the Revo and the Eee Box with an Atom processor that has trouble playing Flash video encoded in h264. A Mac Mini, woudl not have that problem, but it would cost 3 times the price.

Another thing to note is the poor Wireless-N performance of the Revo. If you do not have Ethernet wiring to your living room, you’d better budget for HomePlug adapters instead of a Wireless-N router upgrade.

Desktops Say Bye to Digital Home

bye-laptop

Laptops are killing the Desktop PC at home as they already did in the office.
It is more and more common that each member of a family has his/her own laptop. Specially now that netbooks become an affordable choice for the first personal laptop of a child.

Soon home NAS will become popular as a cheap and green common storage for  songs, pictures and movies accessible by all family member laptops, and also by other devices such as a HTPC or a game console connected to a TV screen. Apple Time Capsule is a nice first try for a combine NAS/Wireless router in the Mac orbit.

Except for hard-core PC gamers, not allured by PS3 or the Xbox 360, there is no clear application that justifies the slight extra performance of a desktop versus a laptop. And the increasing move of apps to the cloud, does not help the desktop cause either.

As I read from Stacey Higginbotham, of GigaOM, quoting a research group:

TBR believes the combination of a stationary display, keyboard and mouse with a mobile PC is the ideal configuration for many users.

Why would you want to buy a desktop PC for home these days?

Some are already starting to predict even the death of the laptop… see picture of device projecting a keyboard on the table (and why not  a screen on a wall too)

NAS: The new device for home

As we anticipated in our 2008 predictions, the demand for Network-Attached Storage (NAS) devices at home is rapidly increasing.

Apple announcement of Time Capsule, even if not a proper NAS, goes into that direction.

There are two trends we all recognize in our digital style-life:

1) An increasing number of media files (photos, music and videos) that we handle in our computers media libraries. Movies and songs are downloaded on-line. DVDs and CDs are ripped to digital media libraries. No more room for space-consuming DVD/CD physical libraries. And no room for the hassle of inserting discs. Personalized playlists and jukebox-like operation is the rule.

2) The number of computers at home is increasing. From one desktop family PC to multiple personal laptops, plus game consoles, DLNA media extenders, and other home networked devices to come (IP cameras, home robots…)

In that environment, a shared storage attached to the home network is a must so that heavy media files do not have to be stored in each laptop at home. The media files in a central location are accessed through the network by any Media Player: laptops, Xbox 360 or PS3, or other Media Extenders.

Folowing those trends, Microsoft has created Microsoft Home Server. HP SmartMedia Home Server is based on Microsoft software.

As we all get more conscious about energy saving, specially for an always-on device, and as a home server can be simplified as pure shared storage, NAS devices are positioning as a wise low cost solution.

Taiwanese QNAP has designed a low-cost NAS targeted for homes. Apart from shared storage with user replaceable drives, QNAP NAS also features:
– a DLNA built-in media server, so that media extenders can access all shared media
– a Bittorrrent client, manageable through a web interface
– 14W power comsuption in operation (6.6W in sleep mode). Fan-less noise-free design.

Linksys and D-link have a similar products, including the built-in media server, but without the Bittorrent client.

Apple Time Capsule is the latest addition. While bundling a network drive with a 802.11n router is a wise idea ( both are always-on devices), it is meant to only backup the Macbooks at home. No media server, no Bittorrent but stylishly packaged and built to easily integrate with Apple family.

HP SmartMedia Time Capsule  QNAP TS-109 Linksys NAS200
 
2 x 500GB
 
1 x 1TB
 
HD not included
 
2-bays HD not included
 
$751.47
with MS Home Server
 
$499.99
 
$290.79
(+$105 / 500GB HD)
(+$311 / 1TB HD)
 
$129.99
(+$105 / 500GB HD)
Pros:
Up to 4 HD
Manage users rights
Manage Software
 Pros:
802.11n router
Stylish design
 Pros:
Low power consumption
Noise-free operation
Media server, web,
DDNS and BitTorrent
 Pros:
Media server PnP
Low cost
 Cons:
Power comsuption
No Wifi
High cost
 Cons:
No media server
Only back-ups
 Cons:
Only 1 HD
Expensive in US
Cheaper in Asia
 Cons:
No Gigabit port
Slow back-ups


Telecom, Internet and Media in 2008

Robosapiens 2008 Robosapiens 2008 Robosapiens 2008

Technologies that will transform our lives in 2008

Telecom

Wimax. Asia will lead in 2008, where greenfield operators will deploy Wimax networks in Taiwan, Japan, Korea and Malaysia. Wimax has strong support for end-devices, with Intel and Taiwanese vendors among others, and the spectrum efficiency is superior to 3G. Incumbent wireless operators will still invest in 3G evolutions, as HSDPA, but will be pushed to more compelling end-user offers by competition from new Wimax players.
For many end-users, “broadband on the go” will be a reality in 2008.

IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS). IMS enables rich services like Presence, Instant Messaging or intelligent call routing, under the Operator control. With IMS as the obvious choice for Wimax network, 2008 might see initial IMS commercial offerings. Open mobile handsets like iPhone and Android will accelerate the evolution to IMS for incumbent wireless, as these devices enable multimedia applications that Operators will prefer to control.

Android direct impact will be small in 2008, but the indirect impact in the industry is huge, setting the trend to open handsets, and anticipating the power of the innovations that Google can bring.

IPTV keeps steady subscriber growth worldwide, delivering features that are exclusive to IPTV: HDTV, Catch-up TV, TV communication services (SMS, Videoconference and voice) and Interactive TV applications, including Interactive Advertisement.

Mobile TV Broadcast trials will turn into commercial in Europe, following Italy and Finland. DVB-H and DVB-SH are the preferred technologies. Expect many technology trials in 2008. Mass market in 2009.

Internet and Media

Social Networks. New applications will come on top of existing platforms, with attention to Google OpenSocial as an enabler for these new apps. Special emphasis in how to monetize the knowledge provided by social interactions, and translate it into targeted advertisement.

Internet TV. 2007 was the year of Youtube. Content owners are quickly adapting and re-positioning. 2008 will see more content owners embracing YouTube and others as a channel.

Death of DRM for Music, as Amazon recent deal with Warner Music illustrates. Music industry transformation is unstoppable. They will find ways to survive.

Console fight is not over yet. Wii surprised us in 2007, but PS3 and Xbox360 have still more to say as new games fully use their technological powers.

Digital Home. Increasing demand for NAS (Network-Attached Storage) at home. On one side as a back-up for media libraries (pictures, music and videos), but also as an always-on low power server, with BitTorrent support, and a shared storage for the family members personal laptops. On the other had, the battle for the definitive set-top-box / Home Theater PC / Media Center/ Jukebox / Media Extender is far from settled. So far my take is a Mac Mini for HW and LinuxMCE for Software. But 2008 will bring more options and some light.

Linux and Open Source are winning on the Server, but Desktop not occupied yet. 2008 should be the year of the final attach to the desktop by Ubuntu and maybe other partners.

Global warming and others:

In general, the global climate concerns will translate into demand from conscious consumers for lower power consumption, as we already see in Servers moving into Blades and the appearance at home of low power NAS boxes, replacing the desktop PC as always-on home server.

But, wait a minute… what about Robots? Will 2008 bring any news beyond Roomba, Robosapiens and Aibo? Watch out.

Video: Linux MCE vs Microsoft MCE and other alternatives

Two more impressive videos to enjoy with the possibilities of Linux MCE.

Many people will be reluctant to move to linux because of lack of official support. Yet you can get tons of support from the many Linux Forums.

On the other side, other options fighting to be the center of home entertainment have significant flaws:
– apart from the infamous red circle of death, the Xbox 360 does not support Xvid and Divx, so a big part of my media library in my PC can not be accessed from the Xbox 360 in the living room – unless trancoded, with loss of quality.
PS3. No support either from Xvid and DivX. The interesting alternative is to install Linux on the PS3, and use VLC to watch your media
Wii is not really an option as a Media Extender. You can only receive streamed video by installing ORB on your streaming PC, set videos to transcode to flash, and access them from the Opera browser in the Wii. Low quality video and no convenient access to library
KiSS Players. Not a bad option, but until recently the SW to install on your PC was not Vista compatible
Apple TV. No Xvid, nor DivX, and no games…Nice design but not open. Not taken seriously by Apple.

Linux MCE will let you easily record TV shows, rip your music and DVD to your media storage with no DRM issues, and on top it will integrate with Home Automation systems and Voice over IP providers (e.g. FWD) among other possibilities.